*** (out of 5)
May 16, 2014
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as FORD BRODY
Ken Watanabe as DR. ISHIRO SERIZAWA
Elizabeth Olsen as ELLE BRODY
Juliette Binoche as SANDRA BRODY
Sally Hawkins as DR. VIVIENNE GRAHAM
David Strathairn as ADMIRAL WILLIAM STENZ
Bryan Cranston as JOE BRODY
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
BY KEVIN CARR
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All the elements are in place for the new “Godzilla” movie to be great. However, like any great recipe, the wrong proportions of ingredients can really hamper it.
Godzilla has a long history in film, mostly in Japanese cinema. Only a few American films actually feature the giant lizard, and this mostly has to do with how proprietary the Toho company is on keeping its brand. The last time the big lizard was featured in an American production was a bit of a disaster. Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” was a goofy mess, though I have to admit to liking it to a certain degree.
Sixteen years later, Warner Bros. tapped “Monsters” director Gareth Edwards to give us a new version of the kaiju king, and the result is pretty impressive, if not disappointing on several levels.
This movie features a retrofitted backstory that kinda sorta is consistent with other Godzilla legends (though clearly ignores the long history of movies from the original source country). Awakened by the radiation exposure from modern nuclear power, creatures start to emerge from deep in the earth. These were encountered in the 50s after the atomic age began, but most recently the rumbling of these monsters were felt in 1999 when their presence wiped out a nuclear facility in Japan.
Now, fifteen years later, the signs are appearing again. Giant insectoid kaiju monsters known as Mutos hatch from cocoons and threatened to destroy cities. However, another kaiju known as Godzilla erupts from the sea, instinctually hunting these creatures down to destroy them.
Like any good Godzilla movie, the set-up is ludicrous, but it works towards the ultimate goal of having giant monsters battle each other in the heart of big cities, resulting the desolation of urban centers and offering a bigger-than-possible realization of our worst fears of modern terrorism. Think of the Superman vs. General Zod battle in “Man of Steel,” only with 300-foot monsters.
To balance out the slugfest of the monsters, “Godzilla” features a somewhat corny human storyline in two parts. On one hand, you have Bryan Cranston playing an official from the 1999 Japanese power plant disaster. He’s actually quite good, and his overzealous character demanding the truth be known gets usurped by his son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) trying to hitch a ride home to save his wife and son in San Francisco. There’s also the obligatory military storyline featuring scientists (including Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) spouting techno gobbledygook to explain away these impossible creatures.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of story and characters for this “Godzilla” because, frankly, these movies are not known for that. Even without using Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” as a benchmark, the original Japanese films were often weak on human character development. One only needs to watch a handful of “Mystery-Science Theater 3000” episodes to realize this.
However, the biggest disappointment in “Godzilla” is that it really isn’t a movie about the title character. Perhaps I was ruined by the awesomeness of last year’s “Pacific Rim,” which worked as both a tribute and a re-imagining of kaiju movies. I was hoping for plenty of Godzilla action in this movie, and while there is plenty, too much of it happens off-screen.
It’s one thing to hold back the money shots until later in the film, but “Godzilla” becomes a joke on itself at times, deliberately minimizing the kaiju awesomeness to return the story to the title characters. It starts with the first confrontation, which ends abruptly to only show tiny snippets of the battle on a 17-inch television screen. Later, the destruction of an entire landmark city is edited out, only to reveal the devastation in a basic wide shot.
The tipping point for me was in the third act when the Mutos and Godzilla literally get ready to clash, blast doors are suddenly closed in front of the camera, painfully omitting what was sure to be an awesome battle. At this point, I thought a title change to “Cutaway from Godzilla” would be more appropriate.
I suppose this is the fault of the director, whose well-made but low-budget flick “Monsters” necessitated working much of the running time around showing the actual monsters. However, when you have $160 million at your disposal, I expect more Godzilla in my “Godzilla” movie.